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  • Writer's pictureHannah Newell

Member Spotlight: Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association

Students for Salmon is a program that most youth in Whatcom County are familiar with. For 30 years, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) has been dedicated to educating, inspiring, and engaging the community to take action to keep wild salmon here for future generations.

Nathan Zabel, the Education Manager for NSEA, says that when they ask students why salmon are important to them, they always get a wide range of answers. From liking to eat salmon, enjoying watching them swim up river, or going on trips with family to catch salmon, each child is somehow connected to this keystone species. One of the joys that Nathan talks about is seeing how invested our community is in protecting this special species.

Planting thousands of trees and meeting with thousands of people around Whatcom County, NSEA is an integral part of this community. They work hand in hand, shovel to shovel, with private landowners and community members in our public spaces to provide healthy and thriving habitats for salmon. The range of services they provide gives them a unique role to play in salmon recovery. With a team of permanent staff, paid interns, and seasonal AmeriCorps Members, they are able to remove culverts, host large-scale stewardship projects and educate youth about how they can have a positive impact on salmon at any age.

In recent years, they’ve created a group of people within the organization from Board level

to AmeriCorps Members focused on diversity, equity and inclusion that will help them to stay culturally relevant and equitable in their approach to salmon recovery. When it comes to youth, Nathan says, “We’ve identified that culturally relevant instruction and delivery is important”. They train their staff and interns to follow a code of conduct that is culturally relevant in order to create a safe and welcoming space for students to learn and engage meaningfully with salmon. This also comes through in the way they offer their programming either at no cost to teachers or through scholarships for their Camp Keystone program serving preschool aged children.

More than anything, NSEA focuses on collaboration with community. Through their engagement at WCEE, they have been able to work with large and small scale organizations to increase the collective impact on our local environment and on salmon. Through their participation in the Connections program, they have been able to connect their popular 4th grade program (Students for Salmon) with the other outdoor experiences students have throughout the year. This effort to collaborate with other organizations, community partners and youth develops a fuller picture of how humans interact and fit into our environment and how salmon are an integral part of that picture.

Looking ahead, Nathan says NSEA is continuing to focus on Salmon recovery and education. They hope to continue to work with partners, educate youth and get our community outside to learn about salmon, their importance in our ecosystem and the tangible steps we all can take to care for salmon for the next 30 years.

To find out more about NSEA and the programs they offer, visit or contact Nathan Zabel at

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